- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lawmakers who served in the military before running for Congress said Wednesday that veterans bring a unique perspective to Capitol Hill, helping make sure Washington never forgets the trials of military life and the needs of the troops.

“It’s absolutely critical to have members of Congress who have been in the military who understand the issues our men and women in uniform face every day,” Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, said at an event hosted by The Washington Times at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who have served and other veterans for their service ahead of Memorial Day.

Mr. Coffman served seven years in the Army and Army Reserve and 13 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve before retiring in 1994. In 2005, he volunteered to return to the Marine Corps when its numbers started to drop, serving a tour in Iraq.

He is one of more than 100 veterans in the 113th Congress who have served in every conflict in recent history, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The percentage of veterans in Congress represents a decline from previous sessions. While only about 20 percent of current lawmakers served or are serving, most during the Vietnam War-era; in the early 1980s, the percentage was 64 percent and it hit 73 percent in the early 1970s.

Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican and a Coast Guard veteran who served during the Korean War, said past wars should never be forgotten, particularly at a time when veterans are facing so many challenges.

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“I oftentimes hear the Korean conflict … is the forgotten war. I disagree, I don’t think it is a forgotten war,” he said. “I don’t believe it is a forgotten war at all.”

But Capitol Hill is seeing a new influx of veterans as recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end. Seventeen lawmakers, nine of whom came in the most recent freshman class, have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, though not all have seen combat. Most recently, Sen. John Walsh, Montana Democrat, became the first Iraq veteran to serve in the Senate when he was sworn in Feb. 11.

The gathering was held amid a growing Washington scandal over conditions in the Veterans Affairs health system, including allegations that at least 40 veterans died while awaiting care on a secret list at a Phoenix VA facility.

The scandal has caused many veterans organizations and GOP lawmakers to call for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down, while other members of Congress have defended the VA, saying that the care veterans receive is good on the whole and the majority of staff provide quality care.

Rep. Charles Rangel, New York Democrat and an Army veteran of Korea, said if any issue in Washington should have bipartisan support, it should be helping veterans.

“When you’re on the battlefield, no one checks out your [party] registration,” he said.

“[Veterans] don’t know how to say, ‘We need help,’ so they shouldn’t have to,” he added.

Army vet Tony Arterburn, who was bested this year by Rep. Ralph Hall in the Texas GOP primary, endorsed Mr. Hall, calling him a “conservative of the heart” and a “living legacy.” The 91-year-old Mr. Hall is one of the last World War II vets serving in Congress.

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